As Fall sneaks up on us, and hopefully some cooler weather, our thoughts often turn more inward. A collect I love reads as follows:
“Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure…”
This sums it up for me. As we look around and the natural world begins to dry up and fade, birds begin to flock and migrate and mums start to show up in our neighbors’ yards, we can get a bit anxious. And certainly this year, amid the presidential race and its politics, terrorist attacks here in New York and New Jersey, shootings by and of police, the refugee crisis in Europe and continuing war in the Middle East, it is even more so.
Psalm 137:4 says “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (NIV) or as “The Message” interprets the phrase, “Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song in this wasteland?” This stanza from the Psalms comes to my mind so often as we try to understand our own lives and our world.
It comes to my mind when a faithful person shares their struggles with me and wonders how they can ever feel joy in the face of the turmoil in their lives and in the world. It can sometimes feel that we are being overwhelmed by the news of the world, the news in our families, and the questions in our hearts and minds. It can be hard to know how to be happy in the face of “all that is going on right now”.
The Hebrew people struggled with this as they had been carried away to Babylon and wondered how, in the face of their trauma and displacement, they could still be faithful to their God. They figured out a way-and that is what we are called to do also. I would like to say that the “joy” we feel as Christians is not dependent on present circumstances and is very different than “happiness”. Joy is the acknowledgment of God’s love and care even and especially in the face of hard times. Joy is the deep sense that whatever comes your way, Jesus is with you and will walk by your side. Joy is what the abiding presence of Jesus brings to our lives. The next phone call or news cast can’t change that; and the tenor or outcome of the presidential election can’t change that, either.
This is the knowledge that can lead us to joy in the midst of anxiety, fear and confusion. This is the gift that we are given in Jesus Christ, with us, here and now, active in our world, here and now. We may not understand the how or the why—but don’t doubt the truth of God’s love. Joy can be found in the presence of the Lord, here and now.
John (NIV): Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.